Usually it’s still dark when I wake. And it’s cold – I turn the heat down at night, and crack the window because when you share a bedroom with two large dogs you have to. I burrow under my nest of blankets and ignore my bladder for as long as I can, then I jump out of bed, stumble to the loo, put Argos out (he and his bladder are also getting old), scurry to the kitchen to turn the heat up from 65 to 67 F, let Argos back in and dive back into bed. I promise myself that as soon as I hear the heat exchanger fans stop running I’ll get up, get dressed, do all the morning things, tackle my to do list. I will have a good, productive day. I will write.
Then, while I wait for the house to warm, I play games on my phone. Fishdom is the most addictive. Wordle, of course – does anyone not play Wordle? And the other free games offered by the New York Times – Spelling Bee (I win if I find the bingos) … Letter Boxed (three moves max) … Tiles … the crosswords … Sudoku. I like games because you can solve them. There are no grey areas – either you win, or you lose. Take Sudoku – there’s only one right answer, but you go through the process and the solution emerges and then it’s done. There’s no fallout, no leftover parts, no mess.
Sometimes I use up my lives on Fishdom, then switch to the NYT games, and by the time I’ve done those I have more lives on Fishdom … It’s remarkable how long one can put off getting out of bed just switching back and forth between games. And of course there’s the news, and the advice columnists, and Reddit, and all of YouTube.
So many hungry, jostling people, yawping for attention, love, justification. Relevance. Meaning. Isn’t that what we all want?
Which brings me to the point of this blog post – which I started in October. In fact I pretty much finished it in October … but then I set it aside, as I usually do, because I wanted to add some pictures, and also I like to wait a day before publishing and give one last read – only I every time I tried to do that I pretty much fell apart all over again. I’ll try to do better this time because it needs to be done and posted so I can move forward.
As I was saying regarding the point of this post: I need to yawp. I’ve been needing to yawp for a long time. The problem is, this is not a depression blog, and I don’t want to write misery porn. But this year has sucked so much, just one swipe of the cosmic vacuum cleaner after another. It has sucked the skin right off my body, leaving me flayed. Defenseless. When I leave my bed, my soft nest of blankets, there is no protective barrier between me and … everything else.
But this blog is where I come to figure things out. I take a snapshot of my life that, for some or other reason, feels significant, and I put it into a frame, and I hang it up on a wall and point to it and say, “See? Look at that! What do you think?” Sometimes I indulge in a spot of mindfuckery – I hang it upside down, say, or I point at a different wall and wait to see if you notice the picture. Because you are a crucial part of the process. I don’t journal – I’ve tried; everything I’ve ever read about writing preaches that journaling is a crucial part of Being A Writer, but I cannot commit to writing without at least the hope of a reader. There has to be a dialog, even if it’s imaginary, or there’s no point.
Everything I’ve tried to write this year – both here and in the maddeningly almost-but-still-not-quite-finished book – has been pointless. It’s been coins dropped into an empty well – instead of a splash and a glint if the light is angled just right, there’s a faint, sad thud and a sinking into mud.
It’s been that kind of year.
So. Anyway. Here I am. Yawp.
I am here to draw a line under 2022. It’s nearly over anyway, but I need the line now. Sometimes a line is necessary – you draw it, and then you total up whatever’s above it, and then a kind of magic happens. Everything above the line is captured, encapsulated, contextualized in the solution. It may still not make sense. It may still have the power to make you cry. But still it’s a solution, boxed up, and you can set it aside and it looks tidier than having everything just all over and anyhow.
2022 actually started last December, after I wrecked the pickup and Patchee died. I was discombobulated and needed to take a few days out to take stock, to think, to plan. To pray and prepare my heart for the new year. So I kissed the (only slightly resentful) Hubbit goodbye and checked myself and Argos into a nearby hotel.
I guess I got some praying done, but wifely habits die hard; I checked in with the Hubbit by phone to remind him to feed the chickens, and found him in a snit because he’d stumbled upon an amazing bargain while poking around the internet, and had bought me a laptop, and then – minutes after paying for it – realized he’d been scammed. And no matter how much I reminded, begged and nagged he could not and would not step away long enough to feed and water my feathery ladies. It was bitterly cold – same as the weather we’re having now, actually: weeks at a stretch below freezing, so their water froze and there wasn’t anything growing and the bugs and worms had burrowed deep. They needed care, but the Hubbit was too busy being furious with the bank (which was refusing to stop his online payment) to pay attention.
So I left the hotel and met him at the bank, where a young man was rude and unhelpful, and then I followed him home and found Mr. Roo collapsed and dying, so I dealt with that and went back to the hotel and tried to pray some more.
Meanwhile, although I didn’t know about it until a week or two later, on the other side of the planet my heart-sister Twiglet was fighting for her life in an ICU. She must have told me she was having hip surgery a month or so previously, but we’re so blasé about that kind of thing these days – a joint wears out and we pop into the hospital for a couple days and come out with a new one and it’s just a no-never-mind. Only, she developed an infection that roared through her body and sent her mind spiraling through bizarre landscapes. For months and months we lurched between “Praise God! Her infection markers are way down!” and “Oh no … a new bug has taken hold…”. It was a rollercoaster ride from Hell that went on and on, and on … and through it all I got to speak with her only once, in February. (I managed to make her laugh!) The rest of the time I was told she was too sick to speak. Or too tired. Or not lucid enough. Even when the news (I did get regular updates) seemed good, I was told she didn’t have her phone.
It tore my heart out not to be there – but even if it had made sense to go (it didn’t; she was rarely allowed visitors) how could I leave the Hubbit? In the savage, grey cold of winter he shrank and huddled into himself. I was afraid of what else might die if I left to go even further from home. I was afraid he would sit and eat nothing but junk food and get himself lost somewhere in the interwebs. I was afraid he might fall. His best friend, formerly known as the Cool Dude, lived on the property … but he’s a drunk and unreliable.
January, February, March I distracted myself by picking away at the bank, trying to get them first to cancel, then to reverse the Hubbit’s payment to the scammers. It was stupid to fight so hard for a mere hundred dollars, but rage drove me. The first customer service rep was so disdainful in the way he spoke to the Hubbit, treating him like a foolish old man; the others were ineffectual; the system was designed to be as difficult to navigate as possible. I wrote to the Attorney General, I blasted them on social media and sites like Yelp!, I pleaded and berated and threatened for months – such an appalling waste of time and energy! (And I got nowhere – there was too much else going on and I eventually let it go.)
Meanwhile, in March it was the Hubbit’s turn for had a quick little routine surgery – a simple removal of his gall bladder. It was no big deal – he was in and out in one day. Easy peasy.
They warn you that the gas pains afterwards are dreadful. The procedure involves pumping gas into the abdomen, and it floats around in there, getting stuck in awkward nooks and crannies, until it’s absorbed through the intestinal tissues and ejected in the usual fashion. The best way to get rid of the gas is to get up and move – which hurts, of course, but we were told that you have to tough it out and then it gets better.
The Hubbit wouldn’t move. He said it hurt, and also he felt sick. I summoned the Bitch Wife, who lashed him with her tongue, and he hated me almost as much as I did. And he did not get better. So I called various doctors and he went back to the hospital, where he failed to poop for a record-breaking number of days. When his bowels finally woke themselves up and performed, his nurses and doctor sang the Halleluiah chorus and packed him back home … where he continued to huddle, and shrink, and on the rare occasion that he spoke his speech was slurred and he forgot what he was saying – and usually what he was saying didn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway.
I called doctors again, and they patted me on the head and explained that he was old, until in desperation I summoned my Inner Karen, and she uttered the L word.
If there’s one thing doctors take seriously in this country, it’s lawsuits.
What I actually said was, “You know, I’m starting to wonder just who I’m going to sue when we find out his death was preventable. Should it be the hospital? Or your boss?” (I was speaking to the surgeon’s assistant. He was busy with another patient.) So she trotted off and returned a few minutes later with the surgeon in tow. He looked at the Hubbit, who was slumped in his chair and staring into space, and said, “You’re really worried?”
“Look,” I said. “He’s old. And he’s annoying and cantankerous. But outside of his political opinions there is nothing wrong with his brain!”
“Hmm,” he said. “Well, he doesn’t have any of the usual symptoms of an abscess, but let’s just check it out to set your mind at rest.” So they did, and he had an abscess the size of a fair-sized zucchini, all swollen up with glop from his bowel and less than a day away from erupting. He spent a couple more weeks in the hospital, and then they were about to send him home and he was well enough by then to tell me he wasn’t happy about that, so Karen popped her head out again. Once again they did a “probably unnecessary test” to “set everyone’s mind at rest” and found leakage where no leakage should be. At last in April he came home, fully restored to his annoying, cantankerous self, to my profound relief.
Meanwhile I’d developed a pain in my knee so severe some days I could barely walk. None of my remedies worked – neither ice nor heat, not an anti-inflammatory diet or fasting, not exercises or stretching or rest or powering through. But there was a huge bag of grain that the Hubbit and the Formerly Cool Dude had dumped in a random location, where cattle and horses kept breaking into it every time they bust out of their pasture (which tends to happen a lot when steers get to a certain age. I think it’s Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that we won’t be too sad when we kill and eat them.) So because I was hurting too much to lift it unaided, and the Hubbit was too feeble and floppy to help, I asked the FCD to move it to where they couldn’t get at it, because gorging on grain is a pretty sure way for grass-eaters to kill themselves. Well, somehow that request for help went sideways and the FCD launched into a vicious tirade that comprehensively covered everything he disliked about me – which turned out to be pretty much everything.
In the overall context of the general shittitude of the year, the booze-fueled ravings of a depressed, self-loathing misogynist is a relatively small matter. But … this was someone I’d known for a quarter of a century – since I arrived in this country. Back in the day, if he and the Hubbit went hunting together I never worried about potential accidents. I liked him, respected him, and trusted him. Even as I’d watched him deteriorate during the eight or so years he lived in his motorhome on our property, I’d wished him well and hoped he’d manage to turn himself around. So the implosion of that relationship, the Hubbit’s ambivalent response to his behavior, the FCD’s continued presence for months before he suddenly just up and left without saying goodbye or even leaving a forwarding address, all combined to taint what little peace and happiness the year had to offer. And now I’m sorry the Hubbit has lost his friend and git-her-done partner. But for myself I’m relieved that he’s gone. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I continued recording messages to send to Twiglet. They weren’t profound … Her husband said she enjoyed news from the Outside World, so mainly I bitched about my sore knee and yattered on about fence-smashing cows and too many dogs and gardenly frustrations. My prayers were also neither profound nor articulate. When you’ve been praying for a long time for something you really desperately want, after a while you run out of words, and all that’s left is an agonized, wordless “Please!” But when the infection flared up for the umpteenth time in June, her doctors were ready to quit fighting it. The only way to save her, they said, was to amputate her leg. “She’s strong enough,” they said, “But she might not be for much longer.”
Of course the people who loved her immediately rallied with intense prayer – not to save the leg, but for the doctors to have wisdom, and for this terrible journey at last to be done. I made up my mind that, come what may, I would go to be with her after she got back home, just for a week or two to help her recover. I imagined the koeksisters we would eat, and the conversations we would have, and how raucously we would laugh, sitting on her stoep overlooking their beautiful garden. I may have sent her a message mocking her for taking such extreme measures to lose weight … Or maybe I saved that joke for when I would see her. I don’t remember.
A few days later the doctors opened up the wound site just to check on the status of the infection. (This was something they had done often. The infection was deep in her bone, so blood tests weren’t reliable.) And in light of all our prayers – because I’ve had experience of miracles, and she had she – it wasn’t all that surprising to learn that the infection was clear. The surgeon who had proposed amputation told her husband, “I can’t justify removing a healthy limb.” At last it was over!
That little surgery was one cut too many. Over the next few days, system by system, her body shut down.
On the Fourth of July I was out – I forget why – and en route home I connected briefly with her husband. He was at the hospital with her, and she wasn’t doing well. I asked if I could talk to her on his phone, since he was right there, but he said she couldn’t speak. He told me to record a message that he could play for her. I wanted to argue, to ask him please just to let me talk to her, even if she couldn’t respond – same as I did with my Marmeee … but he was so tired, and you don’t argue with someone who is sitting at his wife’s deathbed – not even when you both are convinced that she’ll be fine. When I got home I sat on my veranda, and as the fireworks started going off all around me I recorded a series of messages just to tell her I loved her, and that she had done well with her life, and that everything was going to be okay.
The next morning I woke to the news that she was gone. And then I took my knee to the doctor, who diagnosed bursitis and injected a steroid and made it better. Easy peasy.
While I was with the doctor I asked him if I could stop taking the blood thinners I’d been on since my pulmonary embolism last August. He approved, and a few weeks later (it was Twiglet’s birthday – her family gathered on a beach she loved and sent her ashes out to sea) I was back in ER, once again unable to breathe, followed by several days in the hospital, and so now I’m on blood thinners for the rest of my life.
Around about then Cujo moved to Idaho, depriving me of my rescue partner and most reliable venting buddy. We’d already decided – way back in January or February – that it was time to get out of rescue … and I’m almost there. But after she left I contacted the shelter and offered to take an old dog, because they tend not to do well in shelters and Cujo’s and my rescue has always done a pretty good job of finding wonderful homes for seniors. So Chief, a sweet old guy, moved in. After a few days I took him for a vet check, as we always do with seniors, and learned that he had advanced lymphoma, so the Hubbit and I decided he would just spend his last few months here on our little farm. Only not long after, for no clear reason (it’s possible the cancer had metastasized to his brain), he walked under the moving tractor, so he didn’t even get that.
I think that’s the last horrible thing that’s happened this year – except that I’ve been getting slower and sadder and more and more useless, and eventually a few days ago I paid my doctor another visit and it turns out I’m severely anemic. I kind of think that’s good news, though … I mean, it isn’t, of course. But at least this enemy has a face and it’s not the Black Dog, and I have a strategy for getting better. So that’s good, right?
I am so, so tired. I’m sad. I feel old, fat, itchy and achy. Despite my best (currently feeble) efforts to be Holly Homemaker the house won’t stop throwing up all over itself, and – just to help that process along – we have two more dogs that needed somewhere to be and somehow this was the only spot available, and the cold hit before I could finish my end-of-growing-season chores, and there’s frozen snow everywhere just waiting to turn mucky and then freeze again. The pickup is still wrecked. The book is still not written. I’m still breathless.
The best friend I ever had and ever will have is still gone and always will be.
Sometimes I think how much easier it would be if I just stopped. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t actually want to die. In fact, when the doc got a bit vehement because he felt I wasn’t taking the whole anemia thing seriously enough (he wants more tests to figure it out, and that’s fine) I did feel a twinge of ehhh … I hope it’s nothing bad. (I don’t think it is. For quite a long time I’ve been pretty much living on cheese and tomato sandwiches, which aren’t generally a great source of iron.) But my body kind of has a use-by date now, and it would be so easy just to stop taking the dang blood thinners and let my blood do whatever it wants to do. It would be so easy peasy.
It’s time to draw that line – but how to do it?
Life is nothing at all like a game of Sudoku. There is no one perfect solution. There is no single sure way to make the squares in a row line up and act orderly.
It’s nothing like a column of numbers – there’s no way to calculate the sum because the answer keeps changing.
You can’t even draw a line in the sand and say, “Okay, Life, I dare ya – step over that and see what I do to you!” Because sometimes life laughs and runs away, and sometimes it plants you square in the nose, and sometimes a wave billows in from the side and washes the line away.
Sometimes the line isn’t even yours to draw, and the best you can do is take note, and move on.